February 22, 2021
Civics education, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, means all the processes that affect people’s beliefs, commitments, capabilities, and actions as members or prospective members of communities. As disinformation has become part and parcel of American political discourse, it becomes that much more critical for courts to take a role in countering disinformation through civics education. The question then becomes how?
In the Summer of 2020, Judicature published Civic education: The key to preserving judicial independence, part of a larger presentation on the Fair and Impartial Judiciary Symposium. Written by Judge Marjorie Rendell, senior judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the article examined the results of a 2019 Annenberg Public Policy Center survey that found only twenty-two percent of those surveyed could not name a single branch of government and only 39 percent could name all three. Judge Rendell noted civic education is very closely connected to public trust. If people do not understand the way a branch of the government works, it makes it difficult for them to trust that entity.
The National Center offers several resources in this area. Among them:
- Civics Education Essay Contest: Offered annually, the 2021 essay seeks to answer the question "What does the rule of law mean to you?" The deadline for submissions is February 26, 2021.
- The Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education: Created in 2010, the award honors an organization, court, or individual (or individuals) who have promoted, inspired, improved, or led an innovation or accomplishment in the field of civics education relating to the justice system.
- Civics Education Resource Guide: The Guide examines ongoing efforts in courts and communities throughout the United States to address the issue. Most of the programs are tailored to school students or teachers such as the Power of Democracy program.
- Trends Close Up: Growing Demand for Civics Education. Written in February 2020, the article examines efforts at the state and federal levels in this area.
How is your court educating the public to increase their trust in the Judicial Branch? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, and share your experiences.